Fallen soldiers' families share Memorial Day's true meaning
MILWAUKEE- The reason we pay tribute to Memorial Day is to remember those who've given their lives for what our country stands for. Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Nick Iannelli had the privilege to speak to a handful of family members in southeast Wisconsin who've had close relatives who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Private First Class Jacob "Jake" Gassen of Beaver Dam was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 21. Memorial Day is now an entirely different experience for his father Greg Gassen. "We're trying to remember Jake today and all the wonderful things he was doing," said Gassen. "He told me shortly before he was killed how important it was to help his battle buddies when they were wounded on a mission."
The day he heard the news will forever be etched in his memory. "We got the dreaded knock on the door with two officers -- one was lieutenant and one was a Chaplin, and my 13-year-old son answered the door. It was a horrible day, it was unbelievable how I felt."
In Waukesha, Marine Corporal Bobby Warns died in Iraq in 2004 at the age of 23 -- his mother Bridgett Warns details her annual Memorial Day routine. "We put up some banners out front listing all the names of all the guys we lost. It's a great day to pause and be thankful for our freedom," said Bridgett Warns.
In New Berlin, the family of Army Specials Michelle Witmer shares a similar account, "We decorate her headstone. We want people to know that we remember her and her sacrifice."
Witmer was 20 years old back in 2004, the first female National Guard member killed in action in Iraq. Her father John Witmer was in the other room when the military delivered the news to the family, "The first thing I heard was my wife saying 'no, no.'...I'm glad that we have this weekend that people think about starting summer and can spend with their families and enjoy their time, but also take time and reflect."
Thoughts echoed by David Wyatt of Racine, "Now we actually understand what Memorial Day means."
His 22-year-old son, Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Wyatt died in Iraq back in 2004. Although today is nationally significant in his house, "Every day here is Memorial Day, every day."
And that's very likely the case for each family directly affected by war. The country pauses each year to pay homage to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice but to their family members, the tribute is year-round.